The Interface of Metaphor and Morphosyntax: Honorific Address in Russian and Czech

Anne Stepan Keown, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In this paper I present an analysis of predicate agreement with honorific vy that will account for the differences in morphology that appear when a single person is addressed with a plural pronoun in Russian and Czech. For example, we see agreement mismatches in the following sentences: Kakaja [sg] vy [pl] krasivaja [sg] segodnja! How beautiful you are today! and Deškuju v·m [pl], panÌ Vanchurov·, byla [sg] jste [pl] velmi laskav· [sg] Thank you, Ms. Vanchurov·, you were very kind.

The nature of the agreement relation can be captured by expressing cognitive motivations within a formal theory of grammar (Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, or HPSG). Briefly, HPSG is predicated on the belief that certain lexical items (words) play a central role in the processing of the meaning of phrases and clauses that contain them. That is, words themselves contain, among other things, information about agreement features (number, gender), the type of complement required (direct object, clausal complement), and so on. There are no transformations in this grammar; phrases and clauses are created via the sharing of information in a systematic, hierarchical way. The fact that we can also encode contextual information and pragmatic factors makes this grammar very attractive to those of us working with honorifics.

The use of plural pronouns in the addressing function can be viewed in terms of metaphor. In Russian and Czech, orientation metaphors motivate pronominal usage. For instance, one metaphor used to structure pronoun choice in the addressing function is MORE IS UP . MORE IS UP relates specifically to plurality (since PLURAL IS MORE) and to plural pronouns used to address a single person. STATUS, especially HIGH STATUS (which is UP) has traditionally been considered an important factor in determining address between two speakers. If MORE IS UP and HIGH STATUS IS UP, we can conclude that HIGH STATUS IS MORE, or at least that MORE and HIGH STATUS are coherent aspects of the notion of UP. The concept UP reveals conceptual structures essential to understanding how the use of the plural pronoun vy is motivated. That is, to address someone who is UP (higher status) relative to us, we make him MORE, i.e., plural. Essentially, then, singular, honorific vy is the metaphorical counterpart to plural (literal) vy.

In my presentation I will explain much more fully (and technically) how and why this can be represented in the framework of HPSG. PrzepiÛrkowski (2000:8, "Formal Grammar (HPSG)," paper presented at SLING2K Workshop) notes that "HPSG does not attempt to reduce agreement within natural languages to pure syntax or pure semantics; instead... syntactic, semantic, and, indeed, pragmatic factors play a role in various agreement phenomena." In fact, there are even ways to represent cognitive factors, such as the use of metaphor, in this formalism as well. It is precisely because HPSG can accommodate cognitive motivations that the nature of the agreement relationship may be accurately described within this theory.